Atlus shrugged.

Jack Frost, Atlus' mascot

I ❀ Atlus USA. What a company, they have made available some of my favorite games over the last couple of years, most of which are somewhat obscure titles for the Nintendo DS. So when I hear that they are releasing a new game my ears perk up. Such was the case with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, a combination of the universe of Atlus’ MegaTen franchise along with the gameplay of Etrian Odyssey, a charmingly punishing roguelike that they released a few years ago.

When I got the game I was looking forward to many hours of exciting Japanese rpg roguelike adventures, but 15 hours in I think I’ve reached my limit… it’s not that the game isn’t what was promised… the problem is that it is nothing more. Firstly, while it does feature classic DS rpg gameplay, it hasn’t innovated it at all. And secondly even though it is in the rich MegaTen universe, it doesn’t do much to make that universe seem at all interesting.

The game needed an exciting new set of gameplay mechanics and interface changes, and needed to take advantage of the great writers who work on the MegaTen games (and of course the tremendous localization team that do such good work reshaping the dialog for North American audiences). It might be cart size limitations, or release date pressure, but this game feels like they took the Etrian Odyssey engine, slapped a new coat of paint on it (and thankfully some in-dungeon save points), and released it. The gameplay is more or less the same, and the writing is bland at best.

Now you have to bear in mind that I’m a bit of an Atlus nerd, for example I will admit to watching nearly all of Giant Bomb’s Persona 4 endurance run (I watch them while sketching), so maybe having seen the best of Atlus I had high expectations. But why not? This franchise has yet to really get a foothold in North America, unlike the Final Fantasies or even Dragon Quests of this world. In such a position I feel like every game needs to be a home run so it can get a critical mass interested in your IP. In Strange Journey it feels like Atlus kind of (to carry on with this inappropriate sports metaphor) dropped the ball… It feels like with this new game, in a new setting, with all of their experience Atlus had a chance to make a really great game, instead they just kinda shrugged one out…

On the other hand, how important is the North American DS market to developers? I recently heard Ignition entertainment’s Shane Bettenhausen on an E3 wrap-up episode of Weekend Confirmed, and he spoke of how rampant piracy has discouraged 3rd party publishers from pushing games out on the DS, maybe that explains the seemingly disinterested new chapter in Atlus’ MegaTen game world.

So, maybe a 3DS with better piracy protection will bring better games, til then I guess I’ll be playing Strange Journey (and Picross 3D – awesome) while waiting with high expectations for another sure hit combination, Studio Ghibli and Level 5’s Ninokuni

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4 Responses to “Atlus shrugged.”

  1. What other Atlus games do you recommend?

  2. Persona 4 is one of my favorite PS2 games, it was my introduction to that series and I find it’s mechanics to be very satisfying (in a grinding jrpg kind of way). Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Etrian Odyssey and the Trauma Center series are DS games that I enjoyed as well.

    I just got a Wii so I’m hoping to try some of their other titles now too.

  3. ps. Thanks for stopping by πŸ˜€

  4. I’ve tried Trauma Center and it was fun … for a little while πŸ˜‰
    Still, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll keep an eye out for them πŸ˜€

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